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Board to discuss school bus liability for private students

"I think now is the time to look and see if there's adequate insurance," Hall said. "We should discuss it accordingly and decide whether to ask Dietrich to purchase a greater amount of insurance."...

"I think now is the time to look and see if there's adequate insurance," Hall said. "We should discuss it accordingly and decide whether to ask Dietrich to purchase a greater amount of insurance."

The school board meets in regular session at 5 p.m. in Room 116 at Mitchell Technical Institute.

Hall raised the liability insurance issue due to a recent warning sent out by the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. ASBSD informed school districts in the association's insurance pool that the provider for its catastrophic liability insurance may not provide coverage against claims made by private school students injured while riding public school buses.

ASBSD provides liability insurance to 72 out of the 172 South Dakota school districts. The association has catastrophic insurance coverage through Lloyd's of London, a British insurance consortium.

Lloyd's has questioned its ability to cover liability claims based on a 1992 opinion made by former state Attorney General Mark Barnett. Barnett told the Wolsey School District that public school transportation of private school children was illegal and probably unconstitutional.

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"(Lloyd's) has not absolutely said that they won't provide coverage, but that's what we expect them to say," said Gene Enck, ASBSD executive director. "We don't have a court case, but we have an attorney general's opinion. Until the state changes the law, that opinion would hold."

According to Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves, the district does not have to worry about transporting students from Mitchell Christian and John Paul II schools on the district's buses, since the students are transported by a private contractor and not by the school district.

"Dietrich has insurance they have bought as part of their contract, so that's not a problem for us," Graves said. "They don't differentiate between public and private school students."

Mitchell has transported private school students for years as long as the children live along routes where public school students are picked up and dropped off. Graves described the cost for this service as minimal to the district.

Don Enger, Dietrich Bus Service general manager, said providing transportation for private school students isn't a problem for the bus company.

"If that's the policy of the district, then that's what we'll do," Enger said. "Our insurance covers every student that rides those buses. We don't differentiate between private school and public school students."

Graves said the school district also protects itself against injury claims by having an indemnity clause in the bus contract. The clause says the district will not assume any liability for injury to transported students under the supervision, control and responsibility of the bus driver.

According to Graves, Dietrich Bus Service would have the responsibility in paying for injuries rather than the school district. He believes the district has reasonable liability protection and all of the "what-if's" can't be answered.

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"There's always the concern that any amount of insurance isn't enough," Graves said. "It can eventually come back to the district, but the only answer is not to bus students."

Graves said school buses are the safest way to transport students. If school districts didn't provide bus service, students could be exposed to more hazards in traveling to and from school, he said.

Despite his concerns, Hall said he supports transporting private school students, since families with private-school students also pay taxes to the district.

"Those families have rights, too," Hall said. "There's no law saying it's illegal, and we can provide a good, safe ride."

The school board will also consider:

  • Approval of an early retirement request from Carol Ann Schieffer, MTI business and office careers, effective May 16 and the resignation of Teri Morgan, from an extracurricular assignment as oral interpretation coach, effective the 2003-2004 school year.
  • Approval of transfers Allan R. Olson, middle school counselor to computer instructor, and Erin Fowkes, middle school interim counselor to guidance counselor, both effective the 2003-2004 school year; and new hires Stacy Morgan, an extracurricular assignment as assistant varsity track coach, $2,314, and Jodi Plender, assistant varsity track coach, $2,183.
  • Approval of MTI spring semester instructors Dean Knutson, visual basics, $1,620; Ron VanderHeiden, welding, $2,160; Vicki Traupel, medical insurance/coding, $840; Doug Papendick, business law, $1,620; Linda McEntee, business data base, $1,620; David Garton, small business enterprise, $1,620; Leanne Messer, radiation technician film processing, $1,080; and Eric Schaffer, radiation physics, $1,620, and radiographic technician, $2,160.
  • Approval of alternative schooling requests.

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